Go, Gonzales

It is time for Alberto Gonzales to be replaced as attorney general of the United States. The case has grown stronger as the weeks and months of implausibility and fumbling have accumulated. After his performance on Tuesday giving testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, there can be no doubt. Gonzales has lost credibility, he contradicts himself, stumbles, and leaves Democratic and Republican members of Congress shaking their heads in disbelief.

“How can we trust your leadership when … you just constantly change the story, seemingly to fit your needs to wiggle out of being caught, frankly, telling mistruths?” asked Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

If such condemnation came only from an intense partisan such as Schumer, one might put it down to simple politicking.
But Gonzales is disdained and mistrusted almost as completely among Republicans. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) told the hapless attorney general that he had saddled the Department of Justice with “a lack of credibility — candidly, your personal credibility.” When Gonzales contradicted the May testimony of James Comey, former No. 2 at Justice, about pressure put on former AG John Ashcroft while he was sedated in the hospital, Specter asked cuttingly, “Do you expect us to believe that?”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said of Justice, “It’s almost as if the walls were actually crumbling on this huge department.”

On June 11, seven Republicans voted to proceed on a no-confidence vote on Gonzales. It is likely that number would increase if another vote were to be scheduled now.    

Even if one could stipulate that Gonzales and his colleagues had done nothing nefarious or even merely bizarre at Justice or the White House, whether about the firing of U.S. attorneys or terrorist surveillance or anything else — and one cannot — it would still be necessary to find a new AG. For Gonzales is evidently incapable of making the case that there is no cause for suspicion or condemnation. If administration behavior in Justice-related matters has been pure, President Bush needs someone a whole lot better than his friend Gonzales explaining it on Capitol Hill.

Oversight is a congressional responsibility, and testimony is an executive duty. Gonzales is not doing his duty. A high-ranking official who does not do his duty and appears incapable of doing it cannot be allowed to keep his job. By keeping Gonzales, the president is once again taking loyalty too far and allowing his administration to be damaged.

Contrary to some suggestions, if he were to sack Gonzales and send a nominee up to Capitol Hill, confirmation would be fairly speedy. Lawmakers so want Gonzales out that they would be disposed to replace him quickly, just as they were keen to confirm Robert Gates as defense secretary to get beyond Donald Rumsfeld.

We suspect that Tuesday was the last straw for Gonzales. And we’d wager that this is clear not just on Capitol Hill but also in the Oval Office.